Lake District Weekend - June 2008

13-16 June 2008

It is often said that the best experiences always involve learning something new. Well what I will always remember about this weekend was learning that “Wainwrights” are not, as I had stupidly thought as a Scotsman, any hill over 2000ft in England, but instead comprise 214 “tops” of various shape and size in the Lake District. I also learnt that Wainwright is revered by thousands of English walkers (and we certainly seem to have met enough of them on the ridges around Langdale) including his disciples; Steve, who drags us up them whatever the weather is, Paul, who carries a tattered Wainwright “bible” around with him all the time, and Sue, who instead carries a modern translation written by someone else. You can even make, as I did, a pilgrimage to “Wainwright’s Pub” and drink a “Wainwright” beer. It was only on the last day, when Steve had gone home, when we managed to “skive” by doing only one of these said Wainwrights and then that only at Sue’s insistence, to make a total of 18. I am only glad Wainwright never made it north of the border ; since there are 214 Wainwrights only 4 of which would qualify as “Munros”, and as there are 284 Munros in Scotland, then one would predict that there should be 5,194 Wainwrights in Scotland!

In fact, useless statistics seemed to be quite a theme of the weekend, forming most of the evening pub discussions amongst us all. Peter spent time producing graphs of age against time taken to complete the Hundred, which appeared to predict that if you were male and 110 years old, you had a 50% chance of completing it on time. Paul played with his Tracklogs to tell us we did a cumulative ascent over the 4 days of somewhere in excess of 15,000 ft, a suitable figure for Tony, who had come along to train for the Alps. We were sadly not joined by Sandra and Liz on these occasions as they spent an hour each evening doing their hair. Quite what the point of this was uncertain to me, as the wind on the hilltops destroyed their efforts within the first few minutes of each morning and it was only customers of the Ambleside chippy who thus saw them immaculately permed. We were honoured instead by the presence of Jeff’s lovely wife, Anne, though this seemed to coincide with a reduction in his drinking pocket money and he ran up a big “sub” bill with the rest of us in the first few days.

Anyway, to describe the walks. The first was on the “Fairfield Horseshoe” , which somehow took in seven Wainwrights, though I only remember walking downhill three times. Jeff will probably disagree, being the acknowledged expert on the downhills. We learnt more of Steve’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the region, to the extent of knowing the best walls to pee behind (such sites henceforth to be known as “Singletons” once he writes his guide book on the subject).

Day two was a tougher day amongst the crowds on Bow Fell, the multiple tops of Crinkle Crags, and pike O’Blisco, which somehow only comprised three Wainwrights. Day three was my favourite on the Coniston fells, with stupendous views of all the component parts of the UK except for Wales (which seems always to be in cloud and didn’t appear even at Exmoor last year!) – ranging as far as the Mountains of Mourne, the Mull of Galloway, the Isle of Man and Yorkshire. Steve departed us on Sunday night leaving behind directions to “an easier walk” on the Monday. He must have been laughing the next day as this started with a 1500 ft climb straight out of Ambleside!

Steve provided excellent leadership throughout, altering the route to fit everyone’s abilities, with short options provided when desired. Most people enjoyed it so much that they took the long options, even if this meant not reaching the pub ’til 6pm. All this was despite our failure to follow his simple instructions to each day’s start point, even though we had three PhDs in the party!

Oh, and the weather. Well those of you who didn’t come because of the soaking we received last year will be horrified to learn that this time the weather was wonderful! Also those who went home early will be horrified to hear that Monday was a perfect day of unbroken sunshine and crisp clear views. You will all have your chance again next year, I believe. And as I drove home, I wondered whether I would ever have hills named after me like old Mr Wainwright. Well maybe if I do enough Oxon 40 route descriptions in the region, then they might someday call Watlington Hill and other Chiltern tops “Macgregors”. Or maybe not!

Duncan MacGregor